ACC: Gamecocks-Wolfpack 090309

Defense gives Gamecocks early identity

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
11:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. –- In the visiting locker room in the bowels of Carter-Finley Stadium, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the rest of the Gamecocks gave their defense a standing ovation, not to mention half the game balls for their role in the 7-3 win over NC State.

“We all realized they won the game for us tonight,” Spurrier said.
 
 AP Photo/Gerry Broome
 Quarterback Russell Wilson faced heavy pressure all night from the South Carolina defense.


South Carolina’s speed and athleticism on defense smothered the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, quarterback Russell Wilson, and forced the Pack into numerous mistakes. The Gamecocks controlled the line of scrimmage, pressured Wilson all night and were the difference in a game during which both offenses struggled to sustain drives.

How much credit does the defense really deserve?

“All of it,” said quarterback Stephen Garcia. “All of it. They’ve held NC State to three points in two years. That’s not a bad offense. That’s not a bad team. That’s pretty damn good football team. Thank God we have a good defense, a very fast defense, too.”

Despite being coached by Spurrier, whose reputation was built on his offense, South Carolina showed on Thursday night that its identity right now is on defense. Spurrier, as he’s done on many occasions before, said after the game he’s going to get more involved in the offense, but it’s not like he can go out there and score the points for them. Consider it a work in progress.

“We’re a struggling offensive team right now,” Spurrier said, “but if we can get those guys going, get our guys going, I think we have a chance to have a real good season. … We’ve got to find some offense somehow.”

South Carolina’s defense didn’t just make routine plays, it made game-changing plays, and redshirt freshman defensive end Devin Taylor made two of them in his debut. On his first collegiate play, he forced a fumble that was recovered by Eric Norwood, leading to Brian Maddox’s touchdown in the first quarter. Later in the quarter, he blocked a punt on NC State’s second possession.

Norwood had two sacks and eight tackles, and Cliff Matthews had five tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble. Both of those players hover around a 4.5 40-yard dash. The offense, meanwhile, was 1-of-4 in the red zone, couldn’t score from the 10-yard line, and missed a 27-yard field goal.

“Anytime you’re traveling, you’ve got to pack your defense,” said defensive tackle Travian Robertson. “It doesn’t matter if the offense is down, we’ve still gotta bring our defense, because if the other team doesn’t score, they ain’t going to win. We’ve got to bring our defense no matter what. Our offense is going to be alright. The defense just has to keep staying humble and keep making plays out there.”

In all, South Carolina held NC State to 1.9 yards per carry and 59 yards rushing. The Pack was successful on just 5 of 14 third-down conversions and finished with 133 yards of total offense. In eight quarters, dating back to last year’s season opener, NC State has scored just three points against South Carolina. And Wilson is supposed to be the best quarterback the conference has to offer. He completed 12 of 23 passes for 74 yards. He didn’t get the help he needed up front, and his receivers dropped some on-the-money passes – including one in the end zone - but the Gamecocks deserve some of the credit for flustering them.

“I told our defensive coaches that we might have the top team in the nation in total defense the way we played tonight,” Spurrier said. “We only allowed 133 yards – that’s unbelievable. Our offensive team was OK, but our defense had a super night.”

And in a sloppy season opener, they were the only ones who did.

NC State stuck in familiar situation

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
11:08
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- It was not the opening act NC State had hoped for -- a Russell Wilson who looked pedestrian, at best, was sacked six times, an average of 1.9 yards per rush, and what looked to be complete ineptitude on offense.
 
 AP Photo/Gerry Broome
 Tom O’Brien’s offense couldn’t get anything going against South Carolina.


Including last year’s 34-0 loss to South Carolina in the season opener, this year’s 7-3 loss makes for eight straight quarters against the Gamecocks and only three measly points to show for it. For how much anticipation was centered around NC State’s potential this fall, the Pack’s performance was deflating and uninspiring.

“This is a team that understands that maybe we let one slip away,” said NC State coach Tom O’Brien, who in July told reporters he would have a better team. “But they know to come back and work on some things this week and make corrections.

“We have to be able to run effectively and get things going, but now it’s back to the drawing board. Only giving up seven points is a good night for the defense, though.”

It was a great night, however, for South Carolina’s defense.

It’s unfair to come down too hard on NC State’s offense this early because it’s not like the Pack was facing Cardinal Gibbons, the high school down the street. This was another level of athleticism you don’t usually see in the ACC. It’s what separates the two conferences as it did today, and NC State might not see anything like it again this fall.

But NC State still needs more if it’s going to become a serious contender in the Atlantic Division, which is loaded with speed and athletes at Florida State and Clemson. The Wolfpack have to get better up front, control the line of scrimmage and run the football -- the basics.

Until they do, they’ll be fighting the same uphill battle they have been the past two seasons under O’Brien -- a slow start that ends in a mad scramble to finish the season on a winning note.

Opportunity dropped

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
10:02
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State tailback Toney Baker and receiver Jay Smith are going to want to bury this game film in a time capsule that doesn't open for a long, long time.

Obviously there was more to this game than two plays -- it's hardly as if South Carolina put forth a flawless performance -- but the plays that will be tough for fans in Raleigh to forget will be Baker's fumble, and Smith's dropped pass in the end zone that hit him square in the numbers. It's those kinds of mistakes that make it tough to remember Rashard Smith's electric 31-yard return that gave the Pack great field position for a comeback.

Instead, NC State lost 7-3 to South Carolina, dropping its third straight season opener under coach Tom O'Brien. In turn, the ACC got off to an ugly, nationally televised 0-1 start in its nonconference play.

Fortunately for the conference, it's only Thursday.

This just in: It's a day for defenses

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
9:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Just got the third quarter stats handed to me in the press box, and yes, it is that bad:
  • NC State has 79 yards of total offense through three quarters.
  • Both teams are 4-of-11 on third-down conversions.
  • South Carolina is 1-of-3 in red zone opportunities.
  • NC State has three first downs -- three!
  • Russell Wilson has been sacked five times (but he's still standing).
You get the idea.

NC State's offense a letdown

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
9:24
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- I'll be honest. NC State was the one team in the conference I didn't get to see play live last year and I kicked myself for it all summer. There's been so much talk about Russell Wilson, and for the past two months, anticipation over the kickoff to his second season dominated the preseason conversations. And, yet, here we are, with NC State fans rejoicing over a 43-yard field goal.

But that's the extent of the hype here.

South Carolina, though, deserves some credit for Wilson's quiet night. A lot of credit, actually. The Gamecocks are very athletic (man, can they run). And NC State's inability to run the ball has allowed the South Carolina to load up in the passing game. The Gamecocks have put a lot of pressure on Wilson tonight. And when Wilson's quiet, so is NC State's offense.

South Carolina can't close the deal

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
9:03
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Wow. NC State is giving South Carolina plenty of opportunities to put this game away. And the Gamecocks are blowing it. Credit the Pack's defense for a strong stand on the last drive.

The Gamecocks got as close as the 11-yard line and couldn't punch it in (um, red zone offense at practice this summer?). A missed field goal by Spencer Lanning from 27 yards out epitomized this entire game -- sloppy.

NC State can still win this game because South Carolina has shot itself in the foot one too many times. NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer is starting to load up the box and dare the Gamecocks to throw, and we saw on the last drive that, well, they should probably stick to running.

South Carolina has momentum

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
8:47
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- During the last timeout, South Carolina's offensive linemen were jumping around, waving their arms and taunting the NC State student section and band -- a sort of "bring it" motion if you will. They've got some swagger and some confidence right now, and it's got most of the NC State fans back in their seats.

Halftime rewind

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
8:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- At the end of the half, it’s South Carolina 7, NC State 0 -- the same amount of points the Pack finished with in this game a year ago. Here’s a quick instant replay of the first half:

TURNING POINT: Toney Baker’s fumble. It was his first carry since 2007, the first play of NC State’s opening drive, and it led to South Carolina’s lone touchdown of the half. Baker was immediately benched in favor of Jamelle Eugene, and was given only one more carry in the half. Not exactly the comeback he had been hoping for after spending the past two seasons recovering from a torn ACL.

BEST PLAYER IN THE HALF: South Carolina running back Brian Maddox. He’s been the one constant on the field so far, and has 16 carries for 48 yards and one touchdown. He scored on a 1-yard run at the 9:10 mark in the first quarter. The Gamecocks have been able to effectively run the ball, and that can be attributed to their deep, experienced offensive line that has a combined 73 starts over the past four years.

STAT OF THE HALF: 18:49. That’s South Carolina’s possession time, compared with NC State’s 11:11. They might not be scoring every drive, but the Gamecocks are keeping Russell Wilson off the field and wearing out the Pack’s defense in the process. Their athleticism on defense is dominating NC State, and the Pack's receivers have yet to come through in the clutch.

Glennon sighting

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
8:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Did you blink? Get up for a snack? If you did, you missed Mike Glennon's debut, and it was as fleeting as the rest of NC State's offense has been.

South Carolina, as the score indicates, hasn't exactly gotten comfortable in the end zone, either, though it has been able to move the ball and control the clock. The Gamecocks' inability to finish drives is killing them, as they could easily be up 17-0.

It looks like a typical opening game so far, with mistakes in the kicking game, penalties and the defenses leading the way. And, yes, Stephen Garcia has tested NC State's young secondary.

South Carolina's defense worth watching

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
8:01
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Most people talk about offense when they talk about Steve Spurrier, but this defense should get credit for giving NC State trouble.

The Gamecocks have six starters back, and, like NC State are young in a few areas, but have been playing like an SEC defense. Of course, NC State has made some errors, but South Carolina's defense is the one getting the rest.

The Gamecocks' offense had the ball for 9:37 in the first quarter compared to NC State's 5:23. NC State had 27 yards of total offense in the first quarter but is only trailing 7-0. Considering how the Gamecocks are pounding the Pack with their running game, NC State is lucky it's only behind by a touchdown.

NC State left tackle out indefinitely

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
7:46
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State starting left tackle Jake Vermiglio is out with a calf injury and will be re-evaluated at halftime. His backup is Zach Allen.

Pack looking in typical September form

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
7:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- NC State has yet to win its opener under coach Tom O'Brien, who is entering his third season, and if it continues to play like this -- missed tackle, fumble, blocked punt -- you can be sure it will be three strikes in a row.

Has anyone seen NC State's offense? Forget the premier of backup quarterback Mike Glennon, starter Russell Wilson hasn't played enough to need a water break yet. On the other hand, South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia, a relative unknown who's been inconsistent during his college career, is firing rockets into the end zone and running for any extra yards he can get. If it weren't for a pass interference call, NC State would be trailing by two touchdowns.

Things are supposed to be different in Raleigh this year, but so far they look the same.

Not a good start for Pack's Baker

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
7:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- Toney Baker had waited so long for that moment -- too long maybe. Two years, two days and oh, about an hour or so since he was last in a game on this field. And it showed.

In his first carry since 2007, Baker fumbled, costing the Pack precious field position and leading to South Carolina's first touchdown. It was the kind of devastating mistake you could tell he won't forgive himself for anytime in the near future.

The problem is, he needs to forget it now. And so does the rest of NC State's offense. Otherwise, it could be a long night.

Note from pregame warmups

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
6:38
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. – There are no lineup changes for either team, and they’re both on the field warming up right now. Backup quarterback Mike Glennon looked a little off in warmups, and the receivers will need to have a better day once the clock starts. Tom O’Brien has maintained through the summer that Glennon will get in during the second quarter today, so expect for him to make his collegiate debut then.

NC State's Wilson reason for optimism

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
6:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


RALEIGH, N.C. -- The five-year-old facilities here look pristine. The field looks in excellent condition. Red and white tailgating tents have popped up everywhere and in some cases seem to almost cover the entire parking lot. Shirtless students with their painted chests are soaking in the sun as they wait for the rest of the stadium to fill up. ACC commissioner John Swofford is here.

Everything in and around Carter-Finley Stadium resonates with the kind of buzz and anticipation only a program bursting with potential could elicit. And that potential can be attributed in large part to the player wearing the No. 16 jersey that seems to be the outfit of choice here today -- NC State quarterback Russell Wilson.

He’s a difference-maker, and when it comes to quarterback, NC State will have the edge tonight over Stephen Garcia, and in turn the Pack should have the edge over South Carolina. This is a different, deeper, more confident NC State team than the one that took the field in this game last year, and much of that has to do with the maturation of Wilson, who was knocked out in the second half of the game last year with a concussion.

Wilson has the potential to lead this team to the top of the Atlantic Division. It’s almost time to see if the rest of the Pack is ready to follow.

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